Bill Wilson Center Refutes Rumors of Compassion Fatigue for the Homeless

Story and Photos by Diane Andrews

Newspaper rumors of compassion fatigue for the homeless in California fall on deaf ears at the Bill Wilson Center (BWC) for at-risk and homeless youth, which has its headquarters in Santa Clara.

“Compassion fatigue?” BWC CEO Sparky Harlan asked the 400 attendees at the 14th Annual Building Dreams Luncheon on May 16 at the Santa Clara Marriott. “I don’t even know what it means. I never wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m tired of being compassionate.’ And you are here today because of your compassion.”

BWC, founded in 1973, continues to expand its year-round social service programs to prevent youth homelessness and get children off the streets and lumpy old couches of  Silicon Valley. In just the past year, BWC has added enough new housing that it can accommodate up to 500 homeless individuals every night.


Throughout Santa Clara County, for a spectrum of reasons, more than 13,000 students are “couch surfing”—sleeping on the couches of relatives and friends. Once they wear out their welcome, they end up on the streets, where they fall prey to strangers with ulterior motives who pick them up. They believe they have no other option.

Joshua, a 20-year-old client of BWC, found himself on the streets with nothing but the clothes on his back at 19. He shared his story at the Building Dreams Luncheon.

“I believed that being homeless was better than being trapped in a home without caring,” he said.

After sleeping several nights in a park, Joshua went to a fire station (fire stations are designated safe places) for help and eventually ended up at BWC, where he found immediate shelter and counseling. Now, he has a high school diploma, a job and permanent housing. He works full time repairing bikes and rides his bike to work.

“There are a lot of young people like me who would be lost on the streets without Bill Wilson Center. Thank you for helping me find my way,” said Joshua.

“Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church has been a supporter of Bill Wilson Center for many years as an expression of reaching out in love,” said Elsa Amboy, hosting a luncheon table for the church.  “Young adults need to be known, valued and nurtured to realize their gifts and potential, and the services the center provides, assist our youth and young adults in realizing them.”

“I’m really blown away by what the Bill Wilson Center has to offer the at-risk youth,” said Kimberly Baily, a supporter who facilitates classes enabling BWC clients to express their emotions through art.

BWC Board President Ron Ricci pointed out that couch surfers and other homeless youth won’t know about BWC and its services unless someone tells them. BWC has a dedicated website with specific information on how to talk to and help homeless youth: www.acouchisnotahome.org. The youth SOS Crisis Hotline is 1-408-278-2585.